(The Daily Signal) – A high-ranking official at the Department of Education under President Joe Biden met with representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center a year before the center put parental rights groups, including Moms for Liberty, on its “hate map” alongside chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, according to documents obtained by The Oversight Project.
The department also appears to have hosted training that described groups the SPLC has attacked as “our opposition.”
According to documents obtained by The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project, Dietra Trent, executive director at the White House initiative on historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), met with Southern Poverty Law Center staff on July 5, 2022, one year before the SPLC put parental rights groups on its “hate map” June 6. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“It is shocking to see in writing the evidence that innocent parents were harassed and targeted by their own federal government for exercising their right to free speech and for speaking out during the COVID school shutdowns,” Moms for Liberty co-founder Liberty Justice told The Daily Signal in a statement Monday.
“We have known for some time the Biden administration has made it their mission to attack parents who publicly advocate for their children’s education,” she added. “Attending public school board meetings and voicing concerns about our children’s education should not put a target on our backs to be silenced by the federal Government.”
“Though the Biden administration would like to believe otherwise, parents are the only people that should get to make decisions on behalf of their children,” Justice said. “We are grateful for the Heritage Foundation for standing up on behalf of all parents. “
Taylor Emerson, then a confidential assistant to Miguel Cardona, the education secretary, organized the meeting.
As I wrote in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC has leveraged its track record of suing Ku Klux Klan groups into bankruptcy to develop a “hate map” it uses to smear enemies. The SPLC has put conservative Christian groups, immigration-reform groups, parental rights groups, and other organizations that oppose its leftist agenda on the “hate map” alongside Klan chapters.
Last June, the SPLC added a new category to its map, “antigovernment extremist groups.” That new category includes groups in an “anti-student inclusion movement”; namely, parental rights groups including Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, Courage is a Habit, and others.
Biden’s White House notoriously helped craft the National School Boards Association’s letter comparing concerned parents with domestic terrorists back in October 2021. That letter, later retracted, led to an FBI memo, also later retracted.
SPLC leaders and staff met with White House officials at least 11 times since January 2021, when Biden took office, and Biden nominated an SPLC attorney to a federal appeals court. The SPLC’s ties with the Biden administration raise troubling questions about whether the administration plans to target concerned parents again, and these new documents suggest the Department of Education considers the SPLC a credible partner.
Nina Patel, then a senior policy counsel at the SPLC, reached out to Trent on May 10, 2022. “The SPLC has tracked extremist groups for over 50 years and has offered institutions and government officials practical, evidence-based recommendations and resources to understand and deal with these types of threats,” Patel wrote. “If we can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out.”
She introduced Trent to her colleagues, LaShawn Warren, chief policy officer, and Michael Lieberman, senior policy counsel for hate and extremism. She said Lieberman “led the effort to enact federal hate crime legislation and continues to work on combatting radicalization upstream through education and prevention.” She also mentioned SPLC President Margaret Huang‘s testimony to a House committee “about the threats targeting HBCUs and discussed the need to ensure that students have digital literacy skills, taught in an inclusive educational environment, along with other recommendations.”
“I would be interested in learning more about the digital literacy skills you referenced below,” Trent responded. She said the Department of Education is “working with federal partners to host a series of campus emergency prevention, recovery and response trainings on several HBCU campuses.”
After scheduling back and forth, Patel ultimately organized a meeting between Warren, Lieberman, and Emerson, the confidential assistant to Education Secretary Cardona. The meeting took place on July 5, and that morning, Patel asked Emerson to include Kevin Myles, the deputy director of programs and strategy at the SPLC’s education arm, Learning for Justice.
A later follow-up email showed that Myles, the Learning for Justice staffer, was able to join the call on July 5.
Neither the Department of Justice nor the SPLC responded to a request for comment on the call as of press time.
The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project also turned up a document from the left-leaning group Equality Federation, which appears to be an employee training document.
The document, titled “The Legal Assault on Trans Youth & How to Fight Back,” describes conservative organizations as “our opposition.” The federation highlights Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization SPLC has branded an “anti-LGBTQ hate group”; Moms for Liberty; The Heritage Foundation; and the American Principles Project.
The Department of Education did not respond to a request to clarify the circumstances surrounding the slides in question. The SPLC did not respond to a request for comment about whether the SPLC worked with the Equality Federation to develop the “opposition” list.